Kosovo's Vetevendosje Movement Doesn't Like Foreign Intervention
We had a heady interview with the movement's leader, Albin Kurti. Albin is a serious dude who spent two years in prison for fighting against the Serbs in the 90s during their ethnic cleansing of Albanians. Now he leads Vetevendosje in hopes of...
There is a new movement rising in Kosovo and it goes by the name Vetevendosje, which is Albanian for self-determination. Vetevendosje is led by Albin Kurti, an Albanian member of the Kosovar parliament and the Chair for the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Albin is not your ordinary politician. His political awakening didn’t happen in some stuffy classroom of an elite university, it took place during the awful ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Serbs in the late 90s against his people. But beyond that hellish experience, it is the subsequent foreign intervention to quell that travesty and the ultimate commandeering of Kosovo’s democratic and economic endeavors that looms largest over Albin today and the movement that he leads.
Albin first became active in the Albanian students’ movement back in 1997, when young people were protesting the Milosevic regime for the release of the University of Pristina’s campus buildings by the Serbian government. He served as a secretary of the Kosovar Liberation Army in Pristina and helped organize demonstrations against the Milosevic regime until he was apprehended by the Serbs and thrown in prison in 1999, just as NATO and the US commenced their aerial campaign to stop the horrendous slaughter of Kosovar-Albanians. Albin languished in prison for two and half years. But when he was released in 2001, after the Serbian occupation of Kosovo had ended, he founded Vetevendosje to help fight against what he saw was a new kind political occupation led by the same foreign powers that had helped stop the Serbian occupiers. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
To get Vetevendosje, you must first understand that Kosovo is basically a protectorate of the UN, the EU, NATO, and the US. Even though Kosovar-Albanians declared independence from Serbia in 2008, foreign agencies and powers have had their hands in the writing of the country’s constitution, the training of its police, the securing of its border, and even the appointment of it’s political leaders.
What’s really zany is that most Albanians don’t give a flying fuck that their nation has been propped up by foreigners for the past decade. As a matter of fact, Kosovar-Albanians love the USA so much they put a poorly proportioned statue of Bill Clinton in their capital, Pristina. But Albin and Vetevendosje believe this foreign intervention is stripping Kosovars of their voice and their freedom.
To wrap my head around the movement, I sat down with leader Albin Kurti so that he could tell me just what the hell is going on in Kosovo and what his movement—which is still a minority, but is quickly being adopted by the youth—is trying to accomplish:
VICE: How did Vetevendosje form?
Albin Kurti: Levizja Vetevendosje, or the Movement for Self-Determination, formed on the 12th of June, 2005. We are not a classic political party. It’s a movement. We think that representative democracy is not enough—direct participatory democracy ensures a more vibrant society. Representative democracy is illegitimate, it creates alienation and limits choice. The problematizing of the issue was the initial face of our movement.
I’ve heard people call Vetevendosje everything from left-wing communists to nationalist right-wingers. How do you describe yourselves?
The difference with Kosovo is that it’s not a proper state with proper political parties and institutions, so you cannot have left or right. It’s more complex than that. Its like talking about what kind of ingredient you want to use for a pie when you don’t even have the fireplace to make the pie with in the first place.
How would outsiders describe you?
If you sent our program to EU countries, then we would be seen as center or center left. But we are not at the point were we can properly discuss these things.
What can you discuss?
We have advocated the idea of the developmental state, which says that development comes from the inside and not the outside. The neo-liberal model is pessimistic because it offers you salvation from the outside and above. We must initiate development from the inside and rely on our own production.
Is that the primary source of your angst? What is the driving issue behind Vetevendosje?
What we are really angry about is the treatment of the people of Kosovo. During the time of Serbia’s occupation, we were prisoners. And now during the international community’s protectorate, we are hospital patients. The doctors do not mistreat us, they are not like guards in a prison, but they still do not allow us self-determination. So we have to get out of this hospital, and I don’t think the doctors will let us free. I think the patients should get organized and break out from the hospital. Serbia hated us and tortured us, but paradoxically was afraid of us and considered us dangerous for the entire state and society. But now we are being monitored all of the time because we are “dangerous to ourselves.”
That’s the political predicament. What about the economy in Kosovo?
Instead of the prison to hospital analogy, I see the economy as a jungle. In prison there is equality without freedom. In the jungle you have freedom without equality.. We have entered into brutal capitalism, neo-liberalism, where you are free, but you are beasts. Both the rabbit and the wolf are free in the jungle, but there is no protection.
Do you think outsiders are enforcing this neo-liberal version of capitalism?
Precisely. And in this figurative hospital and jungle, we get representation but no ownership in the political process to decide our country’s future. I’m a member of parliament. I represent my voters but I I cannot decide about privatization, about having an army. I cannot change the constitution. So many things that should be a part of political decision and debate are things I cannot effect. In this sense, we got independence without self-determination.
So, who’s determining things?
Well, we are called a republic, but we have two Kings. The kings are Pieter Feith, head of the ICO, the International Civilian Organization, and the American ambassador Chris Dell. They are our unofficial kings.
Speaking of the American Ambassador Chris Dell, you have the current president of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga who, according to some people, was directly appointed by Chris Dell and was not democratically elected.
You know how magicians pull rabbits out of hats? American Ambassador Dell pulled Afitete from an envelope. In Kosovo, three different political parties united in favor of Atifete, who nobody knew before. Their common denominator is the unknown. She started her career as president. In the western world, your peak of your career is president.
Well explain to me how this went down.
Well she received the necessary 80 votes in the parliament to be elected. But a meeting took place in the American embassy, not in our institutions. The Prime Minister Hashim Thaci was there as were the leaders of the other political parties. The American Ambassador Chris Dell was also at the meeting, he saw the discussions happening and suggested that it should be Atifete. They applauded, returned to the parliament and got the necessary 80 votes to get her elected.
So why the hell is the American Ambassador picking the president of Kosovo?
You can see the schizophrenia of Western countries by looking at their domestic policies versus their foreign policies abroad. They apply policies to us that they are not allowed to push back home.
Give me your take on the ambassador?
The American ambassador may have come here with some ideals, but he started getting into micro-management and power relations of different factions. He knows more about the political landscape here than anyone else. Different actors complain to him about each other. So in a way they build up his throne from below. It is not fair to say that he landed here and dominated. It’s like the relationship between the sadist and the masochist—the masochist comes first.
How else has he impacted Kosovo?
The main problem with him is his neo-liberal policies. He sees neo-liberalism as a mathematical truth. He has introduced this principle of privatization at the expense of plans for development. This has led to new infrastructure such as highways, which can carry development but can’t be development itself. There are so many highways, so many gas stations, but we still do not have proper hospitals, schools, homes, and there are constant electric and water cuts.
You guys do a lot of direct political action such as political graffiti and protests. Why?
If you don’t like a politician and you go and throw something at them such as a rotten tomato, this empowers the people and I think makes politicians afraid. It is not the people who should be afraid; it is the politicians who should be afraid.
You had a protest in 2007, and two members of Vetevendosje were killed, not by Kosovar police but international police.
Yes, with rubber bullets that were 11 years out of date. The protesters were shot in the head and the chest. With rubber bullets, you are supposed to shoot at the legs. You are not supposed to shoot at the head. And these demonstrators were shot from the proximity of 20 to 30 meters while the mass of the protesters were withdrawing form the tear gas. There was no danger. Romanian and Polish police squads shot 232 rubber bullets at the demonstrators.
So why were there Romanian and Polish police here?
They were with UNMIK, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, training the Kosovar Police force. And so after this protest, the police in UN missions banned the use of bullets. So now no protesters will be shot by rubber bullets anywhere in the world from now on.
So it was kind of a double-edged sword. Obviously two protestors were killed, but now no one else will ever be killed by rubber bullets.
Exactly. There are many similarities among oppressed people. And you know what, I think they, the UN, were politically troubled by our movement and wanted to teach us a lesson.
So are you guys Albanian, Kosovars, Kosovar-Albanians, or some sort of permutation of that?
I am first of all an Albanian and then I am Kosovar-Albanian. Kosovo is a geographic idea. It doesn’t have national connotations. There is a distinction between ethnicity and nation. Ethnicity is very much in post-modernity, the nation is a modernist concept. The nation is a socio-historical creation of modernity. Ethnicity is a post-modern euphemism for a tribe. And I think the international community, by relying on ethnicity for this region, has de-politicized people. But the reality is, that a nation can be not only a tool but also a defense of society against neo-liberalism because neo-liberalism destroys societies and communities. And it atomizes people. I think its progressive in this respect, but you shouldn’t overdo it because it becomes very dangerous.
So are you interested in seeing Kosovo join up with Albania?
I think we should have that right, but we are not allowed to vote on it. Article 1.3 of the constitution of Kosovo does not allow Kosovo to join another country (meaning Albania). They took this from Austria. Article 4 of Austria’s constitution forbids Austria to join Germany. But wait a minute; it was not we who had Hitler, it was Serbia who had Milosevic. There should be a place for referendums on this. People should have the right to vote.
What do you want people to know about Vetevendosje and Kosovo.
Kosovo is a weak country because of these neo-liberal policies and the endless negotiations with Serbia without conditions for Kosovo. We are trying to save our country from our government in order to make a successful state. In the next couple years, if we are not able to make some, Kosovo will become a failed state.
*Chris Dell is no longer the US Ambassador to Kosovo. In January 2012, President Obama nominated Tracy Ann Jacobson for the position. She was confirmed on March 29, following this interview.